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from The Textbook Letter, September-October 1997

Reviewing a high-school book in biology

Biology: Principles and Explorations
1998. 1,072 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-03-051433-9.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.,
1120 South Capital of Texas Highway, Austin, Texas 78746.
(This company is a division of Harcourt Brace & Company,
which is a part of Harcourt General Inc.)

It's the Same Lame Book, Printed with New Colors

William J. Bennetta

The 1998 version of Biology: Principles and Explorations is identical to the 1996 version in every way that matters. Holt has tried to make the 1998 version seem new by changing some color schemes, by altering some graphic devices and some typography, and by placing a new picture at the start of each chapter -- but the book's content hasn't been changed at all.

Principles and Explorations, then, is still the book that I described in my review of the 1996 version. It has some sound passages and even some good chapters, but these don't compensate for its poor organization or for the load of superstitions, misconceptions, factual mistakes, contradictions and evasions that appeared in the 1996 version and that now have been reprinted, word-for-word, in the 1998.

In particular: This book preaches anthropocentricity, uses false and misleading material to sustain the discredited doctrine of "nature's ladder," and represents the entire animal kingdom in a way which is both anti-scientific and shamefully obsolete. Despite many disjointed mentionings of facts that seem up-to-date, Principles and Explorations views the animals through a lens that science discarded long ago.

Sampling the Pages

The pagination in the 1998 version is identical to the pagination in the 1996. To search for changes in content, I randomly picked 107 pages in the new book and compared them with the like-numbered pages in the older one. The only differences that I found were trivial:

After finishing my survey of randomly chosen pages, I specifically checked all of the items on which I had commented when I reviewed the 1996 version. I found only one alteration: On page 733 the caption beside a picture of Dimetrodon has been rearranged, but without any change in wording; it still says, incorrectly, that Dimetrodon was a reptile.

All the other stuff is quite unchanged, and so is my judgment about the book as a whole: Principles and Explorations contains too much material that is antiquated, equivocal or just dumb. I can't recommend it for use in any biology course.


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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